Canada’s federal election campaign just passed the two-week mark. Alas, we’ve already witnessed an invasion of the privacy of some politicians in public and private spaces.
There was the Aug. 27 disruption of a Liberal rally in Bolton, Ont. Dozens of protesters, ranging from government critics to opponents of COVID-19 masks and vaccine passports, yelled expletives at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his team of supporters.
The Liberal campaign stop was ultimately cancelled. “I’ve never seen this intensity of anger,” Trudeau said. “This is not who we are.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole immediately condemned the actions of the protesters, as did NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
There are many legitimate ways to criticize Trudeau’s leadership – or any other party leader. This isn’t one of them. What happened at Bolton was completely unacceptable and deserved to be condemned.
Another incident happened that same day.
Michelle Rempel Garner was harassed while sitting in a restaurant with her husband and others in Calgary. The Conservative MP was concerned for her safety, stating, “I’m having dinner with my husband,” and her spouse was understandably frustrated. Although a short video of the incident circulated on social media, nothing else materialized during that brief encounter.
Rempel Garner released a statement the following day that said, in part: “In the last two weeks alone, I have had two men spot me on the street, jump out of a car with cameras, and chase after me down the street demanding I respond to conspiracy theories. And last night, while having dinner with my husband, I was accosted by a large man who aggressively approached us and cornered us at our table to do the same thing. For these individuals in these moments, I feel like they don’t see me as a human. In those moments, I also fear.”
We should be equally fed up with this sort of nonsense. If you want to ask a political candidate a legitimate question on the campaign hustings, fine. This type of encounter is harassment. It’s unacceptable and should be strongly condemned.
Some have suggested these incidents are unusual in our country. It’s certainly more common elsewhere. We’ve seen Republicans and Democrats physically and verbally assaulted in the U.S. European, Asian and African politicians have been attacked in public with words, objects like milk and cream pies, and physical altercations.
Unfortunately, these episodes are also occurring more frequently in Canada. A growing number of our politicians – and, as Rempel Garner pointed out, “particularly women” – are being harassed and abused. This is happening in their public and private lives.
Sadly, we’ve become desensitized to these types of events. Many will speak out against harassment and assault, but not always that forcefully. Others will take the approach that it was wrong but blame political opponents for having opened this Pandora’s box. A few will claim individuals who received this abuse actually deserved it.
The parameters that define politics and privacy have changed considerably.
For example, people used to be able to walk freely on the White House grounds in the United States.
Thomas Jefferson viewed the White House as the “‘people’s house’ and opened it to the public,” the Washington Post’s Katie Zezima wrote on Sept. 23, 2014. He would build “a stone wall around part of the mansion's perimeter, but it was to corral livestock that grazed on the lawn, not people.” Until the mid-1890s, individuals “were allowed to stroll the White House grounds during the day and enter the mansion,” Notably, “Jefferson and subsequent presidents, along with their wives, would greet visitors in the East Room around lunchtime.”
Imagine something like this happening today. You couldn’t.
Former Canadian prime ministers used to walk the streets and hobnob with people without a care. Instances of physical attacks in public are very rare, although it did happen to Joe Clark in 2007.
As the National Post’s Tristin Hopper wrote on Dec. 19, 2015, about former prime minister John Diefenbaker, “For Prince Albert residents in the late 1970s, it became a quarterly occurrence to see Diefenbaker striding along the sidewalk, storming into barbershops and dropping into the Herald to say Hi.”
Ex-PM Jean Chretien could “frequently be spotted attending dental appointments or walking to lunch appointments without security.”
That’s starting to change. Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper had a security detail after leaving office. Trudeau will surely do the same thing. Other officeholders will likely follow suit.
The sad reality is things aren’t the same as they used to be. Safety and security are much bigger issues for today’s political participants.
Will more Canadian politicians face harassment and abuse before the Sept. 20 vote?
It’s hard to bet against it.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.
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